Haruo Nakajima helped bring one of Japan’s most iconic characters to life. In 1954, he was the first man to don a kaiju costume and star in Godzilla as the man inside the suit.
Prior to filming, Nakajima visited the Ueno Zoo for a week to help him prepare for the role of Godzilla. “At that time, there was an elephant from India there called Indira and I observed how it walked,” he told Josei Seven (via The Tokyo Reporter). Nakajima noted how the elephant put its entire foot on the ground at once with each step. “So Godzilla’s style of walking came from an elephant.”
Nakajima also studied the way birds moved their heads and how bears moved their limbs to help him bring Godzilla to life once filming started and he got into the 100kg Godzilla suit.
“One cut would take seven seconds,” the actor recalls, “and during the breaks I would wring the sweat out of my shirt into a jar. I also really stunk up the inside of that suit to an unbelievable degree.”
The work was hard, but well-paying. Still, at the time, he didn’t get the respect he deserved. “Back then, people didn’t speak positively of suit actors,” says Nakajima. “There’d be whispers going around that working inside (a suit) is not an acting job.” Certainly, those who knew better didn’t think that, though. Godzilla co-creator, Ultraman creator and all-around visual effects genius Eiji Tsuburaya thought Nakajima was key in bringing Godzilla to life.
Nakajima’s last appearance as Godzilla was in 1972’s Godzilla vs. Gigan. Even after he took the suit off, Nakajima still would occasionally get cameos in Godzilla films, and later worked at the bowling alley on the Toho Pictures studio lot.
Picture: Godzilla Museum